Ayn Rand is a polarizing figure in the world of literature as the progenitor of the philosophy known as "Objectivism". For the uninitiated, the driving force behind this school of thought is that selfishness is not an inherently bad trait and that a person's sole purpose is to pursue their own happiness while generally disregarding everything else, including the well being of society at large. Unfortunately, many people have latched onto this school of thought in order to justify their shitty behavior.
I cracked the Fountainhead having full knowledge of this philosophy. I wasn't expecting it to be a good book. I wasn't expecting to agree with anything written in the 753 page tome. I really only read it to confirm my suspicions about Ayn Rand and Objectivism- that it's a total waste of time and merely rhetorical leverage for terrible people to rationalize selfish behavior.
For the most part, I was right. The Fountainhead is not a well-written book. It's bloated with fluff and reads like a fan-fiction. Rand herself once said that the cynical female lead Dominique Francon was really just herself on a bad day. The characters for the most part are cardboard cut-outs meant to further Rand's intellectual agenda.
But I would be lying if I said I took nothing away from the Fountainhead and that parts didn't resonate with me. An overarching theme of the novel is integrity and the different ways it can be tested. While there were many aspects of protagonist Howard Roark's character that didn't sit well with me (he arguably rapes someone at one point) I will concede that I admired his commitment to his artistic integrity.
Howard Roark is lightning in a bottle- built up to be this superhuman force of creativity that is destined to revolutionize the field of architecture. However, nobody around him initially notices this. He is laughed out of architecture school and most firms. Eventually, he finds work with an old master of architecture who recognizes his talent for what it is and mentors him. Eventually, he slowly but surely develops traction and achieves success as an architect without ever compromising his vision. Of course, a bunch of other stuff happens in the novel, but it's not worth discussing here.
The thing that stuck with me was Roark's unwavering confidence in his work. No matter how many people told him he was wasting his time, no matter how many people laughed in his face, or poo-pooed his ideas, Roark kept right on doing what he was doing. He never got angry, he never fought back in any meaningful way. He just kept on until his eventual success.
Now, I don't have the hyper-detached confidence of borderline psychopath Howard Roark, but this message of staying true to yourself as an artist is absolutely something I can get behind. It's important to make art that expresses who you are. It's not a science. There are guidelines, but no absolute rules. There is only what looks good and what doesn't. I try to remember that as I create and get frustrated with myself and compare my work to other artists. I always appreciate feedback, but I do not live and die by it because there is no pleasing everyone. First and foremost, I need to please myself with the work I create. Maybe not with the same unflinching rabidity that Howard Roark did with his own work, but somewhere in between.
Would I say The Fountainhead is a must read? Absolutely not. But I was pleasantly surprised by the exploration of artistic integrity and what it means to find success as a creator. Do I agree with every single thing I read? No way. But, there is merit in reading things that force you to broaden your horizons and expand your perspective, especially in this age of safe spaces and echo chambers.
If you are a creative person or want to become a creative person, this book should be on your reading list.